March 5, 2014

Sticking to normal sleep schedule can ease daylight saving time transition


Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 9, bringing more sunshine in the evenings at the price of an hour of sleep. Vanderbilt Sleep Disorders Center specialist Kelly Brown, M.D., says a little extra planning can alleviate that groggy feeling that often accompanies the time change.

“You wouldn’t think moving clocks an hour would make much of a difference, but it really can. Especially for night owls and people with underlying sleep disorders, it can be a tough transition,” Brown said.

Brown’s top tip for easing the daylight saving time shift is to stick to your normal weekday sleep schedule on the weekend.

“A lot of people like to stay up late on the weekend and then sleep in, but it’s important to stick to your regular schedule. Mondays are already hard when you shift your sleep schedule on the weekends, and the time change makes it even harder,” Brown said.

A lack of sleep has effects on attention and mood and can cause a systemic inflammatory response. Studies have shown decreased vigilance following daylight saving time, resulting in increased traffic accidents and workplace injuries. Heart attacks are also increased in the three days following the time change.

“I was personally involved in an accident when a driver hit my stopped vehicle on the first Monday after daylight saving time one year. The impact of the time change is a noted phenomenon and should be taken seriously,” Brown said.

It usually takes just a day or two to feel normal again, but some people can require up to two weeks to make the transition. The sleep/wake cycle is controlled by the body’s internal clock, also known as circadian rhythm. There is a direct pathway from the eye to the part of the brain that regulates melatonin, the sleep hormone. Getting sunlight in the morning and avoiding bright lights in the evening can help with the transition.

“When light hits the retina, melatonin production is stopped. Light is the most powerful way to control the internal clock, and blue wavelength light is most effective. But lights from electronics like TV and computers are mainly blue light, and evening TV and computer use can trick the brain to think that it is morning and shut down the evening melatonin production. This can make it very hard to fall asleep,” Brown said.

If the post-time change grogginess continues for more than two weeks, Brown says a sleep specialist may be able to help.

“It’s very important to note that if you are feeling sleepy during the day or having difficulty falling or staying asleep, you should talk to your primary care provider and consider an evaluation by a sleep physician. Sleep disorders are highly treatable and their treatment can make a dramatic change in your health and daytime functioning.”

Tips to ease the daylight saving time transition:

  • Go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night, starting on the Wednesday before the change (March 5). This eases your body into the time change and makes the transition less abrupt.
  • Dim the lights earlier on nights leading up to the time change. Avoid bright light in the evening, especially from computer and TV screens.
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine in the evening.
  • Have a calming bedtime routine, such as reading or taking a bath.
  • Keep the bedroom cool and dark.
  • Don’t stay up late and sleep in on the weekend. Stick to your usual weekday schedule.
  • Get morning exercise in the sunlight on the weekend of the time change.
  • Eat an early breakfast and dinner on the weekend before, and eat a good breakfast the Monday morning after the time change.